Tag Archives: reading

And Again

3 Jan

againThe train tracks of the Northeastern corridor know me by now. I’ve been traversing them since 1998, rolling on quaking metal between New York City and Providence to go to a place where I can be still with the people I love. I make my temporary home in the attic room of my friend’s gigantic Victorian house, and day by day, after wandering the woods and beaches of mostly coastal Rhode Island, we come home and have tea by the fire and retire early to read books. Unless we’re going out to have cocktails.

I am the most fortunate of humans, because I have long embraced my nomadic instincts. But now, as the wetlands roll by and I suddenly see a cluster of at least ten wild turkeys (what?!? did anyone else see that?) on a golf course, I gotta be honest with myself. Do I keep moving so I never finish anything? Never keep anything except the new, new conversations, people, sights, sensations, passions brought to you by wanderlust.

Somewhere in one of my notebooks piled high on my desk at home is a quote that I wrote down while visiting the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. An early 20th-century painter said that artists must recalibrate periodically by visiting the mountains and the sea. I can’t remember if he said anything abut the plains or stuff in between. But I agree with him completely, and I feel ridiculously fortunate that I can indulge my starving senses on a nearly weekly basis.

Why stay still? Because then I would be done with getting ready for a trip or catching up after a trip, and I’d be in that functional limbo where I could actually be at peace and write pages and pages of the novel. Don’t you love how I call it “limbo”? Yeah, because being home is a kind of purgatory, apparently, no matter where I live. I guess it’s my Viking genetic code, seeking to plunder and possess more, more, more.

It makes me feel lost. But apparently I never want to be found.

Turn-Down Service

9 Dec

Books have always shared my bed. Since I was just half the height I am now, I’ve tucked in with pages and bindings surrounding me, adrift in the places they’ll carry me before I sleep.

You’re never alone with a book, I’ve written here somewhere before. And written here too are some lines about how when you’re single you can sleep with your books. I used to be giddy during the short phases between boyfriends when I could sleep morosely with hardcovers beneath soft covers. But now it’s just the norm. Three years of bookfriends in my bed.

That would be fine except now I am adding a newspaper section and moleskine calendar floating on top of the comforter too. Do I really never expect to share this bed again? I guess so.

At least I’m surrounded by love. And my life pursuit keeps me warm at night. I intend to become an author by osmosis.

Bookmarks and Placeholders

29 Jun
The bookshelves at Brewed in Fort Worth offer a Katherine Hepburn biography.

The bookshelves at Brewed in Fort Worth offer a Katherine Hepburn biography.

At this very moment, bathed in the fading dusk light tumbling from a sky portal in a vaulted Salt Lake City ceiling, there sits a a thick hardback edition of an Isabella Stewart Gardner biography. It possesses the dusty green paper jacket and simple lettering prevalent in the mid twentieth century. It is my book. And yet it sits approximately 1400 miles away from my present position on a sofa facing another coffee table in Fort Worth.

Despite the fact that I was only in Salt Lake for a short while last month, I absolutely had to procure this massive, unwieldy tome from a used bookstore, because the coveted object’s pages contained so many beautiful 1960s artifacts from Boston. The Aloof Percussionist said that these artifacts were probably plants, fake random tidbits shoved into pages by bookstore staff to boost the charms of happenstance, but I countered this cynicism with facts. The book was on the “new arrivals” pile and these envelopes, mailed magazine book review clippings, and event flyers formerly were clearly cherished by a single, singular person. There was obvious congruity in their origin. And whoever owned the book was clearly a kindred spirit of mine. Their correspondents sent book reviews in the mail, with handwritten dates on the clippings, and they lived between New York and Boston. Oh, and they tucked things into books.

This is my habit and my problem. I put important pieces of paper, fragments, words written for me, poems selected and sent, into books, and then I lose them in the stacks of my library home. Woven throughout the forest of pages are all the good thoughts and intentions anyone has ever shared with me. Some lucky shelf-hunting second-hand book buyer will discover them someday, if such a vocation still exists when I pass, and they will know that I was loved, and interesting, and traveled the world, but never did settle down long enough in any one place to finish every book and keep every single piece of paper in one safe receptacle.

For the past few days I’ve been haunted very specifically by one such lost fragment—a small, folded piece of paper carrying the words of a William Stafford poem. This scrap once resided in the hand-made wallet of my dearest Heart Friend in Salt Lake City. He handed it to me quietly during a cafe visit last August, paused, and then requested that I tuck the poem into my purse and keep it with me. He’d already sent me the same poem, “A Ritual to Read to Each Other,” on a postcard one month beforehand, but now in this new portable form, he wanted me to have it again. Clearly it was important to him, and so I guarded it carefully, retrieving it often and retracing each syllable silently and aloud, so the meaning changed with settings and circumstances.

But a few days ago, while I was preparing to dine with The Gentleman from Carrollton, I became preoccupied with the location of that very small, soft from refolding, piece of paper. I hadn’t seen it in a long time. Such a long time. I had so diligently carried it with me for so long. But then there was an awful lot of receipt farming and shredding… in a flash, I feared the worst. While The Gentleman stood near my front door, I briefly considered rummaging in a drawer or two, pretending I was searching for something I needed that evening, but really seeking this shred of past thought that I suddenly needed to have immediately to hand.

I resisted the urge. But did become frantic in my search again this evening, cursing myself aloud for being so careless, until I found the original postcard-affixed facsimile of the poem in a book shoved inside a cabinet in my bedroom. That is the storage place for books that would embarrass me if a guest should happen upon them. The books that are telling me what is wrong with me and how to fix it.

Ohhhhh books, try to tell me why I cannot cherish what is given to me, and flail instead through piles and shelves of lost gestures and absence.

Three weeks ago in Salt Lake City, again and always packing to leave, I carelessly decided not to cram the giant Isabella Stewart Gardner book into my carry-on. My enormous suitcase was full, and I didn’t want to add the extra ballast to the other two bags I’d be heaving through the terminal. I was sure I’d come back for the book. I was so in love with The Aloof Percussionist, after all. He offered to send it to me after I left, but I refused, insisting I’d return for it. Now book and artifacts are as lost to me as anything stored in such a way. Important, tucked between pages, and then placed on a shelf and forgotten.

Prufrock is My Mantra

26 Dec

merfAnd indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
—T.S. Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

I have bookmarks wedged between the pages of nine books stacked in a wavering edifice on the wide expanse of teak wood that smoothly defines my headboard. Actually, the way this bed was built, it’s kind of a bookshelf with a mattress wedged into it.

When I lived in Salt Lake City, I used to have maybe only one book on the headboard at any one time. It was a transient space, where only my most current obsession would dwell while I slept. But then when I showed up in Texas, two factors played into the assembly of a tower of titles. First, I couldn’t seem to keep turning the pages of any one, single book, and yet I wanted to keep each attempt near me, just in case it piqued my interest again. Second, I started giving in to more and more recommendations for reading, all at the same time. So this pile actually represents eight different contributors to my literary landscape. The ninth tome is there courtesy of my intent to memorize and recite the entirety of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”. (I’m more than half-way there!)

At the bottom of the pile is a book that was recommended to me ages ago by an ex-boyfriend who didn’t really know me ever at all. But I carried this one, single book with me in the car from Salt Lake City to Fort Worth. Because it’s a book all about me.

Next in the stack is a book sent to me by a friend in Rome, who insists its contents will impart a greater understanding of the generosity associated with sharing one’s creative talents. It’s non-fiction, so I am not in love.

Then there’s a book that Unrequited read at my behest. We were on one of our marathon phone calls and I was pacing back and forth in front of my bookshelves, telling him why I can’t read Russian literature, and how I was surprised he was so infatuated with it. So I said, read this book, because I’ve never read it and always wanted to, and maybe I will finally read it now because I know you’re reading it. Wrong.

On top of that is a book I thought about re-reading because a friend texted me to say he had to leave a cafe because he began weeping at the end of the fifth chapter. I’d told him to read that book fourteen years ago, and he finally saw my point this summer.

Then there’s the books recommended to me by the beautiful, quiet soul who reads in bars in Chicago. Two of those books are in the stack. Oh, and not in the stack is the one book he insisted I purchase immediately a few weeks ago, because he’d reached a point in the plot that made him irretrievably curious about my thoughts. “I just wanna get your take on it.” It turns out it was a love story about two great minds who grew up in very different circumstances, but fell hopelessly in love when they realized they connected in every way. I devoured this book, just demolished it and loved it so completely and thoroughly that I was still in a trance when I finished it, put it down and heard my phone ringing because Chicago chose that exact moment to call and discuss my reaction. After this torrid affair, the book left the stack and I tucked it away on a shelf in my living room because just the sight of it makes me sad not to be in Chicago.

Next up is a book on commitmentphobia with which I will absolutely never get engaged.

Then there’s a classic book on writing and grammar that I am rereading for my edification and as impetus for the writing of a new work of fiction.

Shifting on and off the stack in active reading mode is a memoir given to me by a friend two weeks ago. It’s telling me a lot about myself and my friend, and the places where we intertwine in the universe. Tonight the text confirmed for me a fact which has been rolling around as a nebulous cluster of dust and whimsy for the last couple of months. Maybe I chose to be single? Maybe I chose to not be married? Or be with anyone at all? Right now?

This correlates with a lyric from a song played by one of my yoga teachers the other day in class. “I decided that this is all I ever wanted,” the throaty, independent-minded man-woman sang, her lack of need for any male companionship apparent in her tone. Oh damn, I thought, that’s me. I actually wanted to be this girl who can fly anywhere and visit anyone and be in love with nine books at once and not limit myself to any one love story. Because always, always in my life I’ve had a background obsession hovering around a relationship. One man was never enough.

Now, the way I’ve worked things out for myself, there are as many shifting romantic plots in my life as there are books on my headboard. Let’s do a sweep across the map. One in Portland, one in San Francisco, three in Salt Lake City, one in Chicago, and two in Fort Worth. And the constant, my Prufrock, is my own attempt to get over the awkwardness of having just a fraction of respect and love for myself.

Poor Prufrock, he is so convinced of his deficiencies, he’ll never let anyone love him. I’m beginning to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t be memorizing a poem about romantic despair… they say whatever you say aloud becomes your reality…

Anyway. Years ago, like, good gawd, more than a decade ago, I used to say I loved it when I broke up with somebody or another, because I could return to sleeping with my books. I would pile them up on the mattress next to me, their contents providing a more reliable and lower-maintenance sense of companionship than an actual human. But eventually I would replace them with a new man.

These days, though, I’m setting new records in the height of the barrier I’m putting between myself and a new love. Nine books! Nine books in the stack. I would definitely have to clean that up if I had man here. Sigh.

In that yoga class the other day, the teacher chose that particular song to play during savasana to seal her intention for the session. We were to start thinking in terms of what we “want”, not what we “need”. Which is the exact opposite of what every therapist or wise person has ever said before her, but hell, I’ll go with it. She was talking about the language of empowerment. If we want something, if we desire it, we can use our magical, mystical strength to pull it toward us (hmm… a certain Oprah book club debacle comes to mind). But if we need something, we’re desperate, and oh, we all know that the scent of desperation is about as appealing as aerosol air freshener.

What if I want to have a love that is as interesting and multifaceted as nine stories? I want to replace this stack of books with just one. But first I need to get some more bookmarks.

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